An Afternoon With Franz Ferdinand
“The last [album] came out at the end of 2005 and we went on tour for a long time after that and at that time, we felt that it wasn’t really the right time to write an album. It took pretty much a year and a half to make the record, and that’s not all in the studio, that’s writing and playing smaller gigs as well. It seemed like a natural time and we weren’t really thinking in terms of deadlines.”
Well I certainly was thinking in terms of deadlines as I rushed from Oxford Circus to find the Courthouse hotel at quarter to two and not really knowing where I was going. So I used my well-honed male intuition, with some help from a random street vendor, and found the street the hotel was meant to be on. Not all my problems were solved though as I walked up and down the street with no hotel to be seen, or so I thought. Once my brain has switched on, I realised I had already walked past the hotel twice and, to shame myself further, here’s a photo of the rather large exterior.
But in my defence, the only thing that stated this building was the Courthouse Hotel was a small flag halfway up the building. I mean what kind of hotel doesn’t have some sort of sign proclaiming its existence nowadays?! And anyway this detour allowed me to continue my tradition of spotting ‘celebrities’ on my trips to London - this time with it being Zoe Ball sporting a rather fetching Krispy Kremes bag.
So with that more-tricky-than-expected part of the journey over, I made my way into the hotel reception surprisingly still five minutes early and was greeted by a room full of indie kids, one of my worst nightmares I might add. I honestly thought that I would be the odd one out in a room full of seasoned music journalists but if anything, I was one of the most seasoned music journalists there and therefore still an odd one out.
Shortly after two, we were all escorted into the hotel’s bar where a free cup of tea or coffee, strong tea for me – milk, no sugar, awaited us. I then discovered my first ‘proper’ journalist, or so it seemed, sitting opposite me looking very awkward and probably feeling out of place. It could have been this feeling that prompted him to try and devour a entire packet of tic tacs in the fastest time possible, but I was given time to dwell on this fact as we were soon allowed into the hotel’s cinema for the album play through and the question and answer session.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the album as I was just enjoying the listen, but on first impressions, I’d have to say that the album is ace. Completely different to their previous two records and you definitely can’t say that Franz Ferdinand are a band that rest on their laurels. My favourite track of the album is the superb eight-minute rave epic that is Lucid Dreams, which is clearly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The band were asked about why they chose to change it from the three-minute version that was released on their website during the summer and bassist Bob Hardy had this to say:
“We put it on the website in the summer because it was going on this computer game and we thought it would be unfair that there was a new song that you could only get if you bought this American Football game. So by the time we got around to putting it on the album, it had already been out and people had heard it so it’d be pretty dull to just put it on there as it was, so we decided to play around with it. It happens with a lot of the songs, where you’ll start off with a song and it will change three or four times throughout the session, and it just so happens that you heard that song in the middle of the session and then you get to hear what it turned into at the end as well.”
This turned out to one of the biggest contributions to the session from a member of the band other than Alex, who also described the idea of the album being a concept record of a night out with Lucid Dreams being the ‘climax’. This followed onto the subject of downloads and the future of music which is clearly something that Alex feels passionate about:
“It’s funny because nowadays we do tend to talk in terms of downloads and singles-only and I think that’s going to be a shame because it’s good for a band to work on an album as a complete collection of songs, like a set of music that represents a particular moment in time, and something that’s supposed to be listened to together and in the order that it’s put together. I think it’s patronising to think that your audience doesn’t have the stamina to listen to more than three minutes of music. You’ve got to have more respect for them than that.”
Discussions of the album and specifically the stories behind certain tracks dominated the early questions in the session with one of the most interesting being about the link between No You Girls and Katherine Kiss Me which Alex expanded on:
“Both songs are about kissing somebody for the first time and they’re trying to show how we recall the emotional events within our lives in different ways depending on the circumstances in which we recall them and who we’re telling them too. So No You Girls is like the anecdote you tell in the pub to your friends and exaggerate something and you kind of become the hero of the story. Whereas Katherine Kiss Me is recalling the same event and remembering how emotionally fragile it was and how vulnerable you felt and maybe it wasn’t quite as rewarding as it was meant to be.”
The themes of the album and songs were not the only things brought up over the first half of the session, with topics such as the Glasgow music scene (“ I love Glasvegas and think they’re a great band and what I like about them is that they continue a tradition of bands from Glasgow that sound nothing like each other” - Alex) to the band’s song writing techniques (“This time, we tried writing in a more modular way where you work on a section and a collection of melodies and construct songs from that, as well as working in a more conventional way” - Alex).
About halfway through came my claim to fame, well as a journalist anyway, when I asked the band about whether they feel there is a song on the album with the potential to become this album’s Take Me Out or Do You Want To? Much like with the rest of the questions, Alex was the one who responded by saying how that while writing the songs they never think in those terms, but afterwards they can see that certain songs may have the potential:
“You can see that there are certain songs that Radio 1 might want to play more than others. Like I don’t think Radio 1’s going to play the eight-minute version of Lucid Dreams as readily as they’re going to play No You Girls but you don’t think in those terms when you’re writing. You think ‘This is turning me on right now, let’s make it a song’.”
Satisfied that I had justified my existence at this particular session, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the experience and especially interested in the band’s response to the topic of piracy:
“I think we’ve always been very open about the fact that it’s wrong to try and financially penalise people, like you hear these stories in recent years in America, [record labels] trying to sue families for thousands of dollars because their son was downloading albums, and of course that’s ridiculous. Yet at the same time, as a band, we have benefited from the support of a record label and we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of what we’ve been able to do if it hadn’t been for their support. Their encouragement, both in artistic terms and of course financial terms, and when we were first starting out together as a band, we couldn’t afford to go to a studio in Sweden to make our record. Those guys went out on a limb to let us do that and of course they don’t want to put it [the record] out for free as they’d lose money on it.” – Alex
However by the far the most interesting response was to a question asked about what the band feel about the current music scene, and it was refreshing to see a band not resorting to name dropping and rubbishing other bands. It said it all about how I view Franz Ferdinand because although they may not look like your typical musicians, they are just generally ‘nice’ guys which is as vague as I can get I suppose. But they certainly seem a lot more interested in themselves and their own band rather than other bands:
“I think that as a band, you should want to define yourself by looking about you and deciding what you don’t want to be. I know that when we got together as a band, the songs that were on the radio were bands that were playing in clubs and they were a couple of things that were exciting us, but generally we wanted to do something that was at odds with everything about us. I’m not going to be a bitch and slag off other bands because I wouldn’t like to read an article where I was being slagged off. I just feel that when we first appeared, there weren’t really guitar bands kicking about and there just seemed to be a lot of formulaic pop music in the charts. Now there seems to be a degree of formulaic guitar bands kicking around and we didn’t want to do that and we wanted to rebel against that and that’s why the record sounds how it does.” – Alex
Unfortunately the session was coming to an end but not before clearly the most important insight into the band was brought up – who was their favourite Ferdinand? Drummer Paul Thomson took the plunge and stated that it was Les as he “was one of the ones who took part in the destruction of the Blue Peter garden”. Bob brought up that he thought some fish had died in that, to which Paul conceded that they “took it too far”.
And on a more serious note, the final question revolved around the possibility of a B-sides album in the future to which the band responded positively which is exciting news for me and Franz fans everywhere I’m sure:
“We’re thinking of doing a compilation because often songs that are B-sides, what’s great about them is the immediacy of them. You kind of like run in the studio and hammer it down and at the end just go ‘That’ll do’ and we’re thinking of calling the album That’ll Do.” - Alex
And so it was that my afternoon musical adventure came to an end, but not before I got autographs from the entire band and helped myself to the free badges and stickers on offer. How very professional of me.